Reading group – what if I have nothing to say?

I  have never joined a book group or participated in a reading group. Indeed, I rarely participate in class discussions. I just don’t feel like I know enough about anything (apart from research methods) or can properly articulate myself. I feel my vocabulary is very limited and I am too shy to talk in big groups (i.e. groups bigger than 5!). I was discussing with a friend today about how she tends to have a different view to everyone else on a topic and therefore doesn’t speak out for fear of being too different.

However, this is one reason why I wanted to do a PhD. I wanted to force myself intellectually and to become confident and knowledgeable in sociological things. And to be confident to express a view even if it does get challenged and I end up changing my mind, or changing other people’s. That’s what learning is all about.

Last term, I attended a class called Theory in Research which had no defined structure and participation was mandatory (it said so in bold in the handbook). And I actually participated (although only when the huge class dropout rate meant there were only three of us left – I think people got scared off my the unusual lack of structure). We also had a class where we had to critique each others research proposals and I always joined in that. So I am getting into the swing of this sort of thing and decided that this term I would experiment with a reading group. It is facilitated by a third year PhD student and the topic is Education and Neo-Liberalism. I have no idea how it will be structured or what I can possibly contribute, plus the class size is 15. Gulp. All I know so far is that we have to read three academic papers about neo-liberalism.

I feel that the papers are quite advanced in their content – they seem to be unpacking and re-conceptualising what neo-liberalism is….. but to be honest I didn’t understand most of the words nor the references to history and economics….. So I got out my Oxford Dictionary of Sociology and looked it up, and then looked up liberalism (I think in order to understand the neo, you probably have to understand the old). I kind of feel like Homer Simpson when he studied Marketing:


So I have no idea what to expect tomorrow and am nervous about what we can possibly talk about, but looking forward to it none-the-less.

So helpful tip for the day is: Keep a dictionary at hand at all times! (Sociology and regular type)

(By the way, Prof Les back wrote somewhere once advising those who want to do a PhD to start preparing by writing down words you don’t know and learning them – can’t remember where he wrote this (I also got this advice from a Priest), but interested readers may be interested in his other tips he gives via Sociological Research Online

© Annika Coughlin 2014


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